European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.
‘The Great Wall’ is a daft, cheesy fantasy spectacle, but if you leave your brain at home, it’s also pretty well directed and an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. If you’ve ever wondered why ‘The Great Wall of China’ was built, this film has a theory for you, supposedly based on a Chinese legend. That premise is that the wall was built to keep out a horde of monsters known as the Tao Tei, and every 60 years or so they mount an attack, with the defenders on the wall a last stand between the monsters and the rest of China, and then the world. If that sounds gleefully bonkers to you, this may be the kind of film for you! Our viewpoint into this battle is Matt Damon’s William, the leader of a mercenary group searching for a highly sought after substance known in these days as ‘black powder’ (or ‘gunpowder’ to you and I), and alongside his sidekick Tovar (Pedro Pascal), they end up in the crosshairs of the Chinese soldiers on the wall.
The production of ‘The Great Wall’ was marred in controversy, largely relating to the casting of Matt Damon in the leading role in a film set in China. Accusations of whitewashing abound, but after seeing the film the criticism seems unfounded as the script necessitates an outsider to play Damon’s part, and Damon is perfectly adequate in the role. The banter between Damon and Pedro Pascal is pretty enjoyable, and beyond them (and Willem Dafoe), the film’s cast is almost exclusively Asian and it’s directed by Zhang Yimou, a renowned Chinese director. Controversy aside, I thought the film was good fun, despite having a plot that is absolute nonsense! The film has good scale and I thought it was visually well done, particularly during the battle scenes on the Wall. It does have a feeling of ‘Lord of the Rings‘-lite with regards to the battle which is essentially a direct rip from the Battle of Helms Deep, largely due to the inventive use of fighting techniques to counter the attacking hordes. The plotting is all over the place and you have to suspend your belief on countless occasions, but Zhang Yimou knows this, so we’re bombarded with thrilling action set pieces and cool stylistic flourishes that keep the entertainment level high, even if the story doesn’t really stand up.
‘The Great Wall’ isn’t quite as over the top or as crazy as it could be for a film of its premise, but I thought it was pretty enjoyable and certainly great to watch from a visual perspective.
Directed By: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Lu Han, Lin Gengxin, Chen Xuedong, Huang Xuan and Wang Junkai